Wherever the Road Leads

Oh, Canada, eh?


Most assume Canada and the U.S. to be virtually identical in their ways. We mostly drive the same cars, mostly eat at the same fast food chains (save Tim Horton’s donuts and Harvey’s hamburgers) and watch the same television programs. The difference in television programing is that Canada has censorship in the form of the CRTC who do not allow Canadians to see American commercials of the same products that are on their grocery store shelves and car dealers’ lots.

For the most part, that is true… we are indeed identical in our ways. However there are subtle differences. Some, even after twenty years of living in the U.S., I didn’t realize until recently. I’ve been calling it “brown” bread my entire life. Two weeks ago I discovered that although everyone seemed to understand what I meant, here in the U.S., it’s referred to as “whole wheat” exclusively.

Few, if any, here in the U.S. know what “broadloom” is (wall-to-wall carpeting), what a “supply” (substitute) teacher is or that “invisible mending” means weaving. A decal (DEH-cull) in Canada is a DEE-cal down here. The front lobby of a house (foyer) is a foh-yerr, not a foh-yay and a bedroom/livingroom “suite” is a ‘suit’ not a ‘sweet’.

Those are the expressions and terms that I have experienced so far. There are many more, so for anyone planning a trip to Canada, here is a small Canadian-to-American translation book. For Canadians, here are some terms to not use while visiting the US, to avoid a blank look on the face of whomever you are conversing with.

Backbacon: Canadian bacon

Beater: An old beat-up car.

Bloody Caesar: A Bloody Mary made with Clamato juice (clam and tomato) instead of Tomato juice.

Bob’s: Loblaw’s, a grocery store chain. Must be said aloud to be appreciated: Bob Loblaw

Bob’s Cooler: A plastic grocery bag filled with ice and pop/beer for traveling. Zoomers.

Brown Bread: Whole wheat bread

Butter Tart: A very small (single-serving) pie. They taste like pecan pies without the pecans.

Canuck: Nickname for a Canadian

Candy Floss: Cotton candy

Chesterfield: Couch, sofa

Chips: Both potato chips and French fries, as in “Fish and Chips”.gravy200

Chips and Gravy: French fries with brown gravy poured on top, then some add ketchup

Chocolate Bar: Candy bar.

Clicks: Slang for kilometers or kilometers per hour. “What’s the speed limit?”… “Eighty clicks.”

College: Community College. This is somewhat tricky. A Canadian student would go to “college”, meaning a 2-year course/degree at a Community College, or “university”, a 4-year course/degree at the University of Toronto. An American student attends “college” at the University of Alabama, however he does not go to “university”.

Corner Store (Variety Store): A small convenience store, generally a mom-and-pop operation. Like 7-11 or Shell-Mart but in a neighborhood

Deke: To move quickly, dodge. In sports: He mis-tackled me ’cause I deked him out.

DUI: Driving Under the Influence…DWI

Eavestrough: Rain gutter on the eaves (edge of the roof) of a house

eh-smEh?: Don’t you think? Conversational device that allows an unconfrontational Canadian to turn a statement into a poll of opinion. “Nice day today, eh?”

Elastic: Rubber band

Forty (or Forty Pounder): A forty-ounce bottle of liquor, or the metric equivalent

For Sure: Definitely

Frog: The derogatory term for a French-Canadian

Girl Guides: Girl Scouts

Gravol: Dramamine, a pill to calm motion sickness

GST: The dreaded Goods and Services Tax, 7% that goes on top of just about every purchase (in addition to the provincial sales taxes). It makes point-of-sale purchases up to 15% tax.

Guys: More than one woman or man. An ensemble of same or mixed gender. A Pastor addressing the United Church Women might say, “You guys have been a big help.”

Holiday: Yes, it refers to Christmas etc., but also means Annual Vacation
Homo Milk: Whole milk, homogenized

Housecoat: Robe or bathrobe

Hydro: Electricity, from hydro-electric power. In Toronto, “hydro” charges are graduated. From 6pm to 6am, you pay ‘x’ per kwH. From 6am to 6pm, you pay ‘2x’ per kwH. Yes, Toronto Hydro is a monopoly run by the government.

Fin: A five dollar bill

Icing Sugar: Powdered Sugar, Confectioner’s Sugar

Irregardless: Regardless, but with feeling/emotion… not just regular regardless, but IRregardless

Joe Job: The most menial of employment… “That’s a real Joe job”.

JLJoe Louis: Cake treat similar to a Twinkie, with chocolate cake and a white icing interior. Available in Ontario and Quebec. No actual natural or redeeming ingredients.

Lineup: Line of people; queue

Marking (a Test): Grading a test

Mickey: 13 oz. Bottle of liquor, a “Pint”.

Molson Muscle: Potbelly (Molson is a Canadian brand of beer), beer gut

Muskoka Chair: Large, usually wooden deck chair, Adirondack Chair

Pogey: To be on welfare or receiving unemployment benefits

Processed Cheese: American cheese

Public School: Elementary School

Robertson: A type of screw and screwdriver with a Robertsonsquare indentation, rather than a star or a slot. Robertson screws are just about impossible to strip. They’d be popular in the States except that Henry Ford wanted exclusive rights to them, and Robertson (the inventor, a Canadian) refused to sell.

RRSP: Similar to a 401(k) (Registered Retirement Savings Plan)

Runners: Tennis shoes

Rye & Ginger: Canadian whiskey and ginger ale

Seen: Past tense of ‘to see’. “When I was grocery shopping I seen Jim and Gail in Bob’s yesterday.”

Shreddies: A breakfast cereal somewhat like Chex

Serviette: Paper napkin

Smarties: M&M’s

Stubby: A short-necked, fat beer bottle once used by Canadian breweries. Very hard to find now.

Supply Teacher: Substitute Teacher

Tap: Faucet or spigot

Tea Towel: Dish towel

Timbits: Donut holes from Tim Horton’s donut and coffee chain


Tim Horton’s first coffee shop, Hamilton, 1964. As of July 3rd, 2011, Tim Hortons had 3,811 system-wide restaurants, including 3,189 in Canada and 622 in the United States.

Toque: A stocking cap, toboggan cap

The Bill: What Canadians ask for in a restaurant (Americans ask for the check.)

Track Pants: Sweat Pants

Two-Four: Case of beer containing 24 bottles

Twenty-Sixer: A bottle of liquor containing 26 ounces, or the metric equivalent

Unthaw: Thaw. Yes, ‘unthaw’ and ‘thaw’ mean the same thing. This Canadian logic does not apply in reverse, though. A fresh chicken breast cannot be put into the freezer to unfreeze. (Seriously though, even in Canada, “unthaw” and “irregardless” are not real words.)

Washroom: Bathroom, restroom

Wicket: The position at the bank where you conduct transactions with a bank teller. When the teller goes to lunch, he or she will display a sign that says “This wicket closed.”

Whitener: Powdered non-dairy creamer put in coffee or tea, Coffee Mate

Yah: Yes, agreement. Generally the first word in a sentence, or, the entire sentence. “I seen Jim and Gail in Bob’s yesterday.”… “Yah, I seen them too, eh? Hector, did you see them?”… “Yah.”

Youse: Y’all. A group. “Can I help youse?” Interchangeable with ‘youse guys’.

Zed (Z): zee (Z)

Summer fun

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  1. Mike  May 13, 2013

    the one you posted above…DUI: Driving Under the Influence…DWI
    I think that is a Southern phrase because up north, not Canada north, but New Jersey north, they call it a DUI also.
    Glad to have the comment section back.


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